Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Remember who was in the Wombles

Remembering the 1970s on the New Statesman website, I once wrote:
One of the most popular bands of the era was The Wombles, who always appeared on stage in large furry costumes.

The advantage of this was that anyone could be a Womble, and a shifting cast of session musicians used to share the gigs between them. But, thanks to the good offices of Michael Levy, on occasion a Womble costume would be worn by a hungry young Labour politico.

Levy’s recent memoirs are disappointingly sketchy on the subject, but it is known that Jack Straw, Patricia Hewitt and Dr John Reid all appeared as Wombles at one time or another.

Fascinatingly, a young lawyer named Anthony Blair would also pull on a costume when the briefs were slow coming in.

Alastair Campbell has ruthlessly expunged this episode from the Blair CV - I feel a little nervous telling you about it even now - but was he right to do so?

The Roman Emperors used to keep a slave to whisper “remember thou art mortal” when they got above themselves. Tony Blair would have done well to have an aide close at hand to say “remember you’re a Womble” now and then.

And if he was being particularly messianic, that aide could have added: “Re-member-member-member what a Womble Womble Womble you are.”
A nice conceit, but who was really inside those Womble costumes?

Orinoco was usually Mike Batt, who wrote the band's songs. And very successful he was. According to Wikipedia, The Wombles were the most successful act of 1974, with albums in the UK charts for more weeks than any other act. (If you can remember some of the other bands in the charts in 1974 this does not seem so strange.)

Wikipedia goes on to say that on one occasion the costumes were filled by members of Steeleye Span, and on other occasions such respected musicians as Chris Spedding and Clem Cattini could be found inside them.

But the most interesting Womble was the guitarist Robin Le Mesurier, the son of John Le Mesurier from Dad's Army and Hattie Jacques.

As a profile in the Daily Express recalls:
He first hit the big-time as a member of The Wombles, Mike Batt’s chart-topping band bedecked in furry outfits inspired by Elisabeth Beresford’s children’s books. But he lost that job when a joint owned by his brother was discovered in a police raid on the family home.

Robin recalls: “I came home after shooting a TV show to find six police officers tearing the place apart. They dug up the garden, took carpets up, emptied drawers out and even searched my mother. All they found was one joint that my brother had. They said to me ‘You’re coming too.’ The solicitor told us to plead guilty. Mike Batt called to say Elisabeth Beresford had said what I’d done was politically incorrect so I had to go.”
I think Le Mesurier should have said that he found the joint in the street and had tidied it up.

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